How did you get started in advertising? What's been your career road map?
I always knew that I wanted to be in the business of communicating with people. When I was in high school, I thought I would get into that through pictures, photography and visuals. While at Boston College, I figured out that I wanted it all. I became passionate about studying the strategy of advertising and marketing. In a very spontaneous move from Atlanta to L.A., I fell into the game of ‘knowing someone who knew someone’ that got me an entry level gig in a media agency and I never looked back.
I took some pivots here and there from media buying to PR to media strategy and then to global brand marketing. I wanted to be a generalist, so I could be a CMO of a big company one day. I wanted to speak everyone’s language, so that I could be a great leader of people and of a large-end organization, and I felt I had to walk the walk, so I could talk the talk. After falling in love with business, I realized the big company that I would end up running would be my own and that I was destined to be an entrepreneur. Building became my new ‘sexy’ and Fortune 500 was in the rearview. Ever since then, I have been writing my future to cater towards the goal of starting my own venture and utilizing the skills I gathered along my journey.
After 17 years on both agency and client side businesses and finishing business school in the midst of it all, I emerged as an entrepreneur with a heavy focus on marketing. Marketing and strategy are at the core of everything that I do and I don’t regret a single move that I have made along the way.
What keeps you motivated? Do you have a personal motto?
Work smarter, not harder.
I think this applies to people and strategy development. As a human, you need to arrive in a situation, quickly assess it, and understand where your opportunities for collaboration and value-add lie. You should understand where you can learn the most, as well as, understand the areas that allow you the greatest amount of visibility to decision makers.
But, that is only a small part of the puzzle.
The larger part of navigating the industry chasm is to have the gravitas to understand how to socialize and operationalize your work. This is how you gain traction, earn respect and position yourself to elevate your career. You have to work your audience in a way that doesn’t feel forced, over-confident or entitled.
I have always been results oriented.
I chase success metrics. I have had the opportunity to work on powerful pieces of business in my career, so my motivation has always been in the success of those businesses and being able to clearly identify the areas where my team and I have been able to make an impact.
What excites you most about this industry?
The constant change in marketing and advertising literally gets me out of bed every day! Most people wake up to see what’s going on in politics, I want to know what is going on in marketing. If you blink, you may get left behind.
I am always amazed at the pace at which martech and adtech are moving on a minute-by-minute basis. There is an off the shelf solution for almost anything these days, so teams and brands can be in better command of their own destiny and work smarter. It raises two interesting questions that I have always asked myself… Is it possible to have a ‘successful’ in-house advertising agency in client-side businesses? And what will happen to the traditional agency model as technology plays a bigger role in business? But now, I no longer have to wonder, it is happening before my very eyes and it is exciting to watch.
People are re-inventing themselves and their roles. There is a fresh eagerness to learn in order to stay ahead of the curve. I just hope that hiring managers adopt the creativity to be able to look at today’s talent pool and re-imagine them in these new world roles. There is no longer the ‘perfect resume’… it now relies in the ‘perfect pitch’ for yourself and networking, networking, networking.
Where is advertising heading? What do the next five years look like?
Advertising is heading towards a more automated future and human assets will begin to play a different type of strategic role. I think media planners will have to start asking themselves, ‘how can we use technology to outsmart our competition?” or “How can we partner more strategically with our media suppliers to provide better brand experience to our consumer?” or “What resources are out there to help us better anticipate the consumer’s needs and make a bigger impact with our brand assets?” Rather than, “how many impressions or clicks does it take to make an impact?”
I am eagerly awaiting the shift in industry where agencies ‘think differently’, as Steve Jobs rightly coined, and am watching today’s planners and strategists revise the future.
In the next five years, we will see leaner teams, but more of them. There will continue to be an evolution of innovation arms to help navigate this impending sea change. We don’t get through this guessing, we have to encourage the habit of being curious and becoming more predictive, so that we prepare our current mid-level managers to be the best leaders that they can be in the future and you do this by always seeking answers to new questions. Today’s mid-level managers need to have the willingness to continue rolling up their sleeves to get the work done. We don’t progress by harnessing ambivalence.
What advice do you have for black advertising professionals that are beginning their career?
Get in where you fit in… and where you don’t. It is important to quickly understand what you do well and lean into that, but more importantly, it is important to understand where you don’t fit in and determine why, and then understand how you can make it clear that you do fit. What I mean by that is that in professional situations, people tend to surround themselves by peers that look like them and very intentionally avoid the ‘agitators’ or people that often speak their mind and represent the unpopular point of view or ‘devil’s advocate’ perspective with the intent of driving innovation. People at the top sometimes see this as more work to invite this perspective into a meeting. But, you can insert yourself by using your intellect and professionalism to show people that the proof is in the pudding, and back it up by being solutions oriented. Bring the problem and the solution. When speaking, use facts, not generalizations. When listening, really listen and play it back, instead of waiting for your turn to speak.
What this doesn’t mean is walking into a company as an assistant media planner, walking into the Account Director’s office and demanding a raise and a promotion. What it does mean is when there is a problem to solve and the answer is not readily available, go to look for it, study it and present it back to the people that are responsible for solving the problem. Show initiative.
I often tell my mentees, “play bigger than you think you are… because than you are playing who you really are.”
Photos: Don Lupo
What should our industry be talking about in 2018?
The incredibly low percentage of women and minorities in leadership positions. I left agency-side advertising seven years ago to go client-side. And I left client-side corporate America to branch off on my own three years ago to start my own consultancy. I often attend conferences and seminars only to see a very monochromatic group of individuals. There is an adage or a stat that says, “people tend to surround themselves by people that look like them.” Okay, so I get it, there aren’t that many people in leadership that look like me, so how do I change it? I am a change-agent, so I don’t do well in stagnation, which is why I decided if my employers were not going to support my growth, then I have to invest in myself and start my own entity. I got an MBA and started my own company in an effort to stop working for other people. I am absolutely razor-focused on determining my own future success and supporting those that may not be the obvious choice. Those that look like me.
Any closing thoughts?
I hope that this movement creates real momentum around changing the faces at the top and that we as a culture truly make a shift. I hope this is more than a movement of diversification, but diversity becomes reality. I promise to do my part, but I won’t lie… there are many moments in my day, every day, where I am dis-heartened by what I see. And there are situations that occur that cause me to reflect on my own career where I realize racism played a role, by people who I liked and respected and I thought felt the same about me. And that hurts. I don’t want to hurt anymore.
I stand for change, a brighter future and the rise of the underdog. There are enough powerhouses in the industry that if they continue to take the risks to make sure their voices are heard, that I believe we can turn the industry. I see hope with organizations like ThinkLA that make the conversation around diversity a priority. Using your mindshare to stand up for the under-represented means we have in fact taken a step in the right direction.
Thank you ThinkLA.
The Dialectic Compound was born to incite immediate change in thriving businesses. It is a collaborative, curious and creative 'Think Tank' of highly seasoned business, marketing and operations executives who are curated from the wild.